From OU to DC: former OU student advocates for those with intellectual disabilities

Oakland University’s influence reaches as far as the White House.

In 2014, Micah Fialka-Feldman, who finished his participation in an OU program called the Oakland University Post-Secondary TransitIONS (OPTIONS) program in 2010, was appointed to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the committee serves as a “federal advisory committee to the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services on matters relating to persons with intellectual disabilities.”

Fialka-Feldman keeps in touch with the committee over the phone and goes to Washington, D.C. for meetings throughout the year. Right now he’s helping to prepare a report on how to make technology more user-friendly for those with intellectual disabilities.

He received a certificate in disability studies from Syracuse University in 2015, and has accomplished a lot since his days at OU.

He interned for a year with the Michigan Round Table for Diversity and Inclusion, an organization that works to overcome discrimination by bringing community leaders together.

“We gave workshops on inclusion and how to help high school students learn about inclusion and how to work with students with disabilities,” Fialka-Feldman said.

After speaking at two education conferences at Syracuse University in August of 2011, Fialka-Feldman moved to Syracuse, New York, and felt right at home. He became a teaching assistant at Syracuse University while earning his certificate. He also talks to classes about his experiences.

“I loved being in a place that really believed in inclusion,” Fialka-Feldman said of Syracuse University. “It’s been a great support for me.”

Fialka-Feldman was a participant in OPTIONS, which allowed participants with mild intellectual disabilities to participate in OU classes and get involved on campus. While participants did not receive a degree, completion of the program made them more marketable.

The OPTIONS program stopped accepting students in 2009 and was discontinued “for several reasons,” according to OU officials, who neglected to say what those reasons were in a recent email.

However, “The University remains committed to providing services to admitted students with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] through our Office of Disability Support Services (DSS),” the officials continued. “Consistent with our strategic goal of being an engaged community partner, we recently entered into an affiliation with the Judson Center.”

Fialka-Feldman sued OU in 2008 for not allowing him live in the dorms. He won, living in a dorm for his final semester in 2010.

During his battle, more students showed up to support Fialka-Feldman before the board of trustees than they did for the recent tuition raise, said Shae Howell, professor of communication.

“The degree to which our secondary elementary education systems have created an understanding of the importance of inclusion in our society is clear by the student support for Micah personally and for the OPTIONS program,” Howell said.

Although Fialka-Feldman said he wishes OPTIONS was still available at OU, he credits the program and the lawsuit with his current successes.

“It helped me understand that I could move to Syracuse and teach at Syracuse University,” Fialka-Feldman said.